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Bombing Suspect Alleges Attack Was Self-Motivated, Not Connected to Other Groups

April 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev remains hospitalized with limited ability to communicate. But the 19-year-old has reportedly acknowledged that he acted alone with his brother out of anti-American sentiment. Judy Woodruff gets an update from Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This afternoon, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino announced that the biggest charitable fund for the bombing victims, The One Fund, is up to $20 million dollars so far. Corporate donors committed $15 million dollars. The rest came from some 50,000 individuals. Payments are expected to be distributed starting in July.

We have more now on some of the questions surrounding the investigation and what’s been learned in the last 24 hours.

I spoke with Devlin Barrett of The Wall Street Journal a short time ago.

Devlin Barrett, welcome.

Let me ask you first about this younger brother, Dzhokhar. We know that he’s in the hospital bed communicating. What do we know about his injuries and how he’s talking to, communicating with investigators?

DEVLIN BARRETT, The Wall Street Journal: His medical condition was upgraded from serious to fair, which means that he is improving, but he still has some pretty major injuries which are affecting his ability to communicate.

Specifically, he’s been shot in the head, some sort of head wound, also a pretty serious gunshot wound to the neck which is affecting his throat. And also he’s got gunshot wounds to his legs and his hand. So our understanding is that he can basically communicate by writing a little and by nodding and a little bit of sort of grunting yes or no at times, but it’s very limited, is what’s been described to us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what have you learned about what they are — what he’s saying to them, what he’s communicating?

DEVLIN BARRETT: What we’re told is that he’s telling his FBI questioners that he and his brother acted alone, that they did so out of a jihadist sentiment, an anti-American sentiment, but that they weren’t directed by anyone, certainly not a terror group overseas.

And he’s also told them that there aren’t any other bombs and there aren’t any other bombers out there that they have to worry about. Now, what I’m told is investigators aren’t taking any of that at face value, but so far they have not found other evidence to prove those assertions wrong.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what’s your understanding of whether he has taken responsibility for what’s happened?

DEVLIN BARRETT: As — what we have been told is that he essentially acknowledges his role in this.

There are differing accounts of how much of the direction he cites to his brother. I think that’s still to be determined, but he acknowledges that he essentially did this and was part of this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s what I wanted to ask you about, because there have been reports that he is saying in so many words and communicating to investigators that this was mainly his brother’s idea, that his older brother was the driving force here.

DEVLIN BARRETT: I have seen those reports. And I will be honest, that’s not how it’s been described to me. I think we also have to be careful in — when you hear different things. That’s going to be a big part of the legal fight over this guy’s ultimate sentence.

He’s facing the death penalty. One of the — maybe the only mitigating factor for him in all this may be that if he’s able to claim that he was essentially a pawn or a tool of his older brother. I think, frankly, whatever the truth is, it’s going to take more than his word to determine it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, in so many words, again, he’s saying that they were not in connection with outside groups, but that they were looking at jihadist websites?


This seems to be — everything that he’s telling them and everything that the FBI has found so far really suggests the sort of classic nightmare scenario for counterterrorism officials, which is self-motivated, self-indoctrinated and self-trained, essentially. That doesn’t mean that they won’t find something in the course of the investigation that points to some direction or training or ideological involvement by another party, but right now what they have is two young men who seem to have taken it upon themselves to conduct some pretty atrocious acts of violence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Devlin, we — it’s been reported that investigators also are talking to the widow of the older brother, Tamerlan. What’s known about what she’s saying?

DEVLIN BARRETT: Well, that’s a very interesting piece to this case, because one of the things investigators are trying to determine is, did anyone either wittingly or unwittingly help them accomplish this?

And the widow has been an interesting focus for the bureau for a number of days, because she immediately got a lawyer. And the lawyer has been negotiating terms for her to come in and talk. And I believe that conversation began today. And I think that’s someone that the FBI has been very interested in talking to, and really wants to understand better what that relationship was, what she saw or didn’t see, and what she thought or didn’t think once the attacks happened.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we know that her attorney is saying that she didn’t know anything about it.

Do you know who else they are talking to?

DEVLIN BARRETT: Well, they’re talking to basically every single person who ever had contact with them.

I know another piece of this that they’re looking at is, the older brother — there are records showing that the older brother purchased some fairly large pieces of fireworks in New Hampshire. We have been told by experts that, in theory, you could take out the black powder from those fireworks, and if you had a whole bunch of them, certainly more than there are records for the brother purchasing, but if you had a bunch of other purchases, you could amass enough black powder, technically, to build these types of bombs.

It’s just an avenue the FBI is pursuing at this point. They think it’s possible that that’s where the black powder for these bombs came from, but they also haven’t ruled out other potential sources for the black powder, such as gunpowder or other things.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Devlin Barrett with The Wall Street Journal, we thank you.